Chosen in a list of 2011’s 50 Great Wines

We’re honored that distinguished wine writer Frederic Koeppel chose the ’08 Chardonnay and ’05 Cabernet to be part of his group of 2011’s 50 Great Wines: “…by great I mean not only that they pleased me immensely and intensely but that they possess something so special in the way of personality and character and authenticity that they register on a higher plane than the stuff that’s just tasty and enjoyable…”

It’s here:

Marvelous from Milwaukee

Well said by our friends at Waterford Wine in Milwaukee!

End the Hate: Smith Madrone Chardonnay

There are Haters in this world. Call it what you will – “Anything But Chardonnay”, ABCs, or the no-oak wine crowd – there are Haters of Chardonnay.  And they are wrong. Like all Haters their tastes are being driven by two prejudices.  First, that all Chardonnay tastes the same; and second, that all Chardonnay is dominated by oak.   

Chardonnay has spread everywhere and is made by everyone.  Haters assume the ubiquity of the grape implies mass production and poor quality.  This reasoning is tautological, yet it points to one of the great glories of Chardonnay: the vineyard location matters.  In other words, the place changes the taste.  Chablis remains the most famous example, its chalky soils are said to impart a goût de pierre à fusil, or gunflint taste to the wine.  And while gunflint wine may not be desirable to everyone it highlights the point – not all Chardonnays are the same.  Today, the case in point is Smith-Madrone.

In 1971, Stuart and Charles Smith reclaimed a Napa Valley ghost vineyard planted in the 1880s from the encroaching Madrone forest.  Hence the name, Smith-Madrone.  High above the fog line they sit atop Spring Mountain, a pile of red volcanic rock that neighboring winery Stony Hill nicknamed eponymously Le Montrachet

Unlike many Napa Chardonnays, Smith-Madrone’s is 100% dry-farmed estate grown fruit from a tiny 13 acre plot of thirty-seven year old, own-rooted vines.  And like Chablis, the location matters.  The high-altitude develops a Meyer lemon citrusy note to the wine.  The dry-farming, something very few others in Napa have the skill to accomplish, develops power into the wine driven by fruit textures.  During their 37 years of life these vines have reached deep into the soil and you can taste this on the finish – a lingering note of tropical fruits balanced with minerality and brine that leave the palate clean, ready for the next glass. 

Smith Madrone’s Chardonnay sees oak, but isn’t dominated by it.  Many drinkers are now prejudiced against oaked Chardonnays.  This prejudice is driven by ignorance.  Some Chardonnays need oak, some do not.  Oak is ultimately like salt in the kitchen.  It is used to bring out other flavors, not to provide a flavor in and of itself.  While there are many examples of over-oaked Chardonnays in this world, that is not what the Smith brothers produce.

Using oak barrels, Smith-Madrone’s Chardonnay develops a creamy, layered mid-palate.  Like in Cabernet, oak barrels allow for the subtle transfer of oxygen into the wine.  This develops the acid character, adding to the Meyer lemon tastes with hints of croissant, brioche and roasted cashews.  The flavors of oak do not dominate this Chardonnay yet give it a backbone and strength of character that supports the fruit.  This Chardonnay is classic mountain grown California wine: rich and powerful, while also balanced, fresh and elegant.    

It’s easy to hate Chardonnay, except when you taste Smith Madrone’s. Bottle tag: Gorgeous Chardonnay.  Lemon and creamy, easy as a cocktail and great with food.  Pair with rich but not oily fish (sea bass, lobster), roasted light meats, and, in my humble opinion, will also pair with steak.  Drink now until 2015.


’08 Chardonnay is SHS’s Wine of the Week

The Star’s Catherine Seda reports: At 9 a.m. one morning in 2002, I found myself on Spring Mountain, surrounded by thick forest and hills draped in vines instead of the usual New Yorkoffice towers and cement. And I was not on vacation — I had just moved here. I was pretty much dumbstruck by its quiet beauty. Later that day, I would visit Smith Madrone, pulling up to the winery’s large cellar doors. Out of those doors walked a man, his face partially hidden by a beard, with big boots and work clothes — a look that would have sent me crossing the street had I encountered him in the city. What I did not expect, and a lesson for me, was that this mountain man, one of the Smith brothers, was part of a highly educated duo (Stu and Charlie) who were possessed with the passion of making great mountain wine. Salt-of-the-earth types who make wine in the same ilk, they concentrate on what matters. The 2008 Smith Madrone Chardonnay has deliciously ripe fruit structured by a light toastiness. It’s hard to tell where the fruit ends, the minerality picks up and the rich toastiness finishes, it is so well made. It’s here:

A chef & sommelier review the ’08 Chardonnay

Enobytes reviews the ’08 Chardonnay:

The Chef says…Pear and ripe kiwi with a hint of orange zest brought out the best aromas on a non aromatic grape than I have tasted in a long time. On the palate, the flavors continued the same fruit aromas but there was a mission a foot that the wine makers strived to achieve which was to make this wine more than a sum of its parts. A mission in my book they have achieved quite convincingly. This wine was an extreme pleasure to consume. The finish was long, plush, and very texturally pleasing. Culinary applications are very broad and if you were looking for a stand-alone sipper you would have to search very hard to find a wine that accomplishes that feat as well as this one does. ~Marc Hinton

The Sommelier says…You can taste the vintage in this wine, meaning that the long, dry growing season produced a wine with intense flavors for this dry-farmed vineyard. Interesting and fun, this barrel fermented Chardonnay is citrusy and tropical with hints of apple and almond with a tinge of orange zest leaning towards a Burgundian style with great balance, acidity and viscosity. This wine paired great with Tuna Tartare. Marc’s crab cake recipe would pair equally well. Bon Appétit! ~Pamela Heiligenthal

2008 Chardonnay reviewed

Anne Valdespino blogs: “Chardonnay—Californiachards have been taking it on the chin for being overly oaked and buttery. The style swings to stainless steel and no malo lactic. But face it, some of old style chards are delicious. An outstanding chard I tasted recently came from Smith-Madrone. Their Spring Mountain District 2008 chard left me craving more. The fruit is big but regal, the wine is oaked but not overly so. There’s some citrus but it’s balanced by orchard fruits. Sip after sip, you just can’t get enough.”